Rankings do not tell the whole story

Though Dartmouth College claims not to take college rankings seriously, it was hard not to notice when the Princeton Review left Dartmouth off its list of the Top 25 Most Connected Campuses. While this may have come as a shock to both students and administrators accustomed to hearing Dartmouth’s technological capabilities lauded by respected institutions such as The New York Times, the surprise subsides when the evaluation criteria are analyzed in greater detail.

Dartmouth was left off the list mainly because it does not use enough streaming technology in our classes. With streaming video, lectures and whole classes can be made available online to students to access whenever they choose. Moreover, class discussions can take place online.

While these are praised as great technological advances by The Princeton Review, there is perhaps a fatal flaw: though these “advances” connect more students to the internet, they seem to connect students less to peers and teachers.

What attracts many to Dartmouth College is the unique opportunity to interact with other students and professors in relatively small, personal class settings. Students know that when they arrive here, they will not be treated as another number in a 1,000-plus-seat auditorium but as a person. If Dartmouth were to conform to The Princeton Review’s standards, this could all change.

Lectures, once solely accessible in class, would become available as podcasts. Though this development could be helpful for catching up on missed lectures and for review purposes, it could more detrimentally lead to a drop in student attendance. Online class discussions, while allowing students to express themselves without the pressures of public speaking, would certainly hamper face-to-face debates. With lecture halls and seminar tables no longer mandatory, Dartmouth students could end up doing the bulk of their learning within faceless virtual classrooms.

The absence of streaming is not the only criterion that contributed to Dartmouth’s exclusion from the list. The other — a variation on the theme — is that Dartmouth does not offer a program championed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: streaming courses online for the general population. True, knowledge should be available to everyone. But when this technology becomes available, when all information being explored in Dartmouth courses can be downloaded, why enroll at the school at all? Free is cheaper by far.

Let us not bemoan the fact that Dartmouth got left off of this list. By other standards that measure wireless access and software development by computer science graduate students and professors, Dartmouth is quite technologically savvy. However, in the eyes of The Princeton Review, a company whose sheer output of rankings lists forces one to question their reliability, we did not meet criteria which at all turns support a student not physically going to class. Perhaps this omission is not a testament to Dartmouth’s failures, but a quiet reflection of its success.

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